Security and Defense: Escalation?

It was as if Palestinian terror groups did not wantto bother Israel as it fought a diplomatic battle against Turkey.Between Thursday and Sunday, they fired more than 20 Kassams, Katyushasand mortar shells, the largest concentrated attack since Operation CastLead ended almost exactly a year ago. IDF officers, including Chief ofGeneral Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen.Yoav Galant, warned that another round with Hamas was likely justaround the corner.

Sunday, in particular, was reminiscent of the olddays, when the Gaza border saw action almost every day. In the morning,terror groups fired a number of mortar shells. At night, as theyprepared a repeat attack, the IAF bombed an Islamic Jihad cell, killingthree operatives, including a top commander.

Then came Monday. At about the same time that Deputy ForeignMinister Danny Ayalon sat down to rip into the Turkish ambassador, theviolence suddenly disappeared almost as fast as it came.

In reality there is no direct connection between theJerusalem-Ankara diplomatic crisis and the sudden lull in violence onthe Gaza front. Rather, the attacks are likely part of a greaterdiplomatic strategy in which Hamas is reminding Jerusalem, Cairo andRamallah that there is an alternative to the past year of quiet.

The sudden escalation is understood here as Hamas'sway of blowing off steam following the tightening of screws on the GazaStrip in recent weeks.

THE INCREASED pressure began a month ago at the height ofnegotiations for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit when,against Hamas expectations, Israeli officials made clear that even ifhe is released, the blockade on Gaza will be kept in place. The Israeliposition is made possible by a 2007 government decision which definedGaza as a "hostile entity," meaning that Israel legally only needs toensure that a humanitarian crisis does not break out there, but it doesnot need to transfer into Gaza whatever Hamas wants.

Nextcame Egypt's decision to construct an underground steel wall along thePhiladelphi corridor, which would curb, if not halt the transfer ofweapons through the hundreds of cross-border smuggling tunnels. Thisled to violent demonstrations along the border, during which anEgyptian guard was killed. Cairo, however, is not stopping its workand, if anything, is speeding it up.

This does not mean that the smuggling will stop, since Hamaswill just dig its tunnels deeper to circumvent the wall. What is reallyneeded, a top IDF officer explained, is for the Egyptians to deploytheir security forces more effectively along the border.


"Just because someone who was failing starts doing better, doesn't mean he's any closer to an 'A'," the officer said.

Next was the testing of the Iron Dome, during which the missiledefense system successfully intercepted several barrages of rockets,including Kassams, Katyushas and mortar shells.

And finally, on Sunday the screws were tightened even more withPrime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's decision to erect a fence along theborder with Egypt.

While Gaza is not directly on the Israeli-Egyptian border, itsclosure will prevent potential terror infiltrations via the "U Track" -dubbed such by the IDF's Southern Command in reference to the crossingof gunmen from Gaza to Sinai, and then into Israel.

The message to Hamas from all of this is clear - the siege onGaza from Israel and Egypt will continue and even escalate. Inaddition, in about six months, rocket attacks won't be as effectivesince the Iron Dome will be deployed along the border.

All of this has put Hamas under a tremendous amount ofpressure, and it is believed within the IDF that this pressure is themain reason behind the recent escalation in rocket attacks.

The quick response, including the targeting of the IslamicJihad rocket squad, is a demonstration of how Israel will not sit backidly, and how closely its intelligence services work with the IAF. Itis also one of the reasons that Hamas again cracked down on Palestinianfactions to stop the escalation from spinning out of control.

Allowing such an escalation would currently be against Hamas'sinterest, which is continuing to rebuild its infrastructure and amassweaponry ahead of the next conflict.

While the same rearmament is taking place with Hizbullah inLebanon, Military Intelligence believes that Gaza will likely light upbefore the North. This is a result of the constraints currently onHizbullah due to its active membership in the Lebanese government.

While Hamas is in charge of Gaza, the continued stalemate inthe reconciliation talks with Fatah leaves it less restrained, sinceless political responsibility means more military maneuverability.